Florida Grant to Develop Ethanol Technology
Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp has announced that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will award Florida International University’s (FIU) Applied Research Center (ARC) and Florida Crystals Corp. (FCC) a $1 million grant to develop cellulosic ethanol technology under the Florida Renewable Energy Technologies Grant Program.
The grant, the product of a partnership between FIU-ARC and FCC, will identify a pretreatment process that can cost-effectively convert sugar cane bagasse to ethanol. The study will determine the feasibility of using Florida bagasse as a feedstock for a future large-scale bioenergy plant in Florida.
FCC, the largest sugar producer in the United States, will match the grant.
Corn currently is the feedstock for ethanol in the United States, but experts have forecast that corn can supply only 10% of future U.S. gasoline demand.
While biomass is more abundant and cheaper than corn, the technology to break it down into fermentable sugars is lacking. Bagasse is a plentiful Florida byproduct of sugar extraction from sugar cane. More than one million tons are produced annually by the Florida sugar industry.
FCC already mixes its bagasse with urban wood waste to fuel its Biomass Renewable Energy Facility, the largest of its kind in the U.S. The company hopes its collaboration with FIU will enable it to develop cellulosic ethanol from sugar cane to help reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
Although bagasse is a valuable fuel, there is strong commercial interest in upgrading its value by converting it to ethanol. Demand for ethanol is driven by President Bush’s call to boost annual ethanol and other alternative fuel production to 35 billion gallons by 2017 and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
FIU and FCC will investigate promising pretreatment processes for bagasse conversion to sugars that can be readily fermented to ethanol and will scale up those findings to a pilot facility to assess the feasibility of commercialization of the bagasse-to-ethanol technology.
The project’s aim of catalyzing the commercialization of ethanol production from biomass will constitute the first case where a major commercial company (FCC) and a leading technology development institute (FIU) are jointly performing pilot development to take cellulosic ethanol to full commercial scale.